A Talk, Talk, Talk Society
Many people think that the world is going to hell. With all the disease, destruction, violence, terrorism, political upheaval, and pure chaos that are constantly nipping at our heels, many of us cannot help but be a little pessimistic about what the future has to bring. Although most Americans would like to think that all potentially damning events and devastation occur elsewhere in the world, we too have our own problems lurking right here at home. By simply turning on our television sets and flipping through the channels, we can plainly see the sex, violence, and war that is creeping into our homes and, consequently, into our minds and lives. Our country used to be seen as one that was untouchable, stable, and completely safe, but this attitude quickly changed in September of 2001. We received a sort of reality check that reminded us of the fragility of our government and ways of life. Attempting to safeguard ourselves from any further disasters or hostility, we implemented and stepped up various security procedures in hopes that our barriers could not again be broken down from the outside. Yet America faces a different menace, which instead of swiftly knocking us off balance slowly digs into our foundations and eats away at our cherished morals and values, bringing us down from the inside. This menace portrays radically heinous scenarios, creates false realities, and shamelessly flaunts all that Americans once viewed as wicked or immoral. It is none other than the TV talk show. Daytime talk shows, such as Jerry Springer, Maury, Montel, and Oprah, demoralize and deconstruct society and, therefore, should be considered a negative aspect of postmodernism.
In order to thoroughly understand how talk shows contribute to our country’s moral and social decline, we must first look at how television, as a whole, influences society. With all the “educational” programs present on the Discovery or History Channels, it would seem that television has a lot to offer society in terms of knowledge and cultural information. Yet, as with modern prime-time, the bulk of TV has become one big sexual, violent arena where producers continually challenge the boundaries of the acceptable and the extreme. Television, “[l]ike a child acting outrageously naughty to see how far he can push his parents, […] is flaunting the most vulgar and explicit sex, language, and behavior that it has ever sent into American homes” (New York Times qtd. in Allen 17). A result of this increased crudeness is a numbing and desensitizing effect that is promoting sexual promiscuity and violent behavior. Once shocked at the sight of a bellybutton or large amounts of blood, our society has come to accept almost complete nudity, images of various sexual acts, brutal wrestling matches, and footage of actual combat. When we see such images or situations on a daily basis, we cannot help but become immune to them. And because we emulate what we experience or view, scenes or scenarios acted out on stage or in studios are replicated in our daily actions. Various messages involving social situations or political views are also presented on TV. Whether by means of commercials or actual programs, this medium has become a way of influencing our decisions or feelings about certain “hot” issues, such as presidential candidates, abortion, war, drugs, and religion.
Television has significantly changed or challenged the ways Americans act and feel, but it has also taken the place of or destroyed our social lives and various “social institutions” (Abt and Seesholtz, Shameless World 175). “Television […] is a solitary pleasure […] Not only does [it] cut down on time spent with others, it cuts down on the need for others” (Stephens 127). Instead of mingling with members of our families or communities, we simply stare at our TV screens and watch the latest episode of a popular reality series. Children no longer go outside or play with friends, but are shoved in front of a television or voluntarily stay inside to watch cartoons or play video games. Because we are abandoning significant contact with other responsive beings, we are becoming isolated and introverted. Television and the characters portrayed on our favorite shows become our friends and our families; we idolize and look up to them, no longer needing real people (Tolson 33). “[T]elevision has become the center of our homes, our routines,” and we are constantly influenced by it (Abt and Mustazza 107). But when this overall influence is combined with the extreme effects of talk shows, society experiences an even more precarious deterioration of values.
(For the complete research paper see my BC blog)